Chelmsford City (0) 1 Bath City (0) 1 – Vanarama National League South – Saturday 13 January 2018 – Melbourne Stadium
Substitute Tom Hitchcock picked the perfect time to open his Chelmsford City account as his 88th-minute header denied Bath City victory at a chilly Melbourne Stadium. Ross Stearn had given City the lead within 80 seconds of the second half restart, but they couldn’t hold on against the Essex outfit, whose pressure eventually paid off and meant a sixth draw in nine outings for the Somerset side. Jerry Gill was forced into a couple of changes, with Tom Smith returning to Swindon and Dan Ball missing out through suspension. Anthony Straker’s return from injury saw him start at Michael Kelly’s expense, with Jack Batten and Andy Watkins also drafted into the starting XI.
Chelmsford started brightly with Scott Davies’ long throw headed down by Anthony Church, before Kudos Oyenuga’s strike was gathered by Luke Southwood. The Romans’ first two attempts on goal saw Jack Compton strike the wall twice with free-kicks. The dangerous winger nearly turned provider on 26 minutes when his precise cross was headed home by Nat Jarvis, only to be penalised by an offside flag. The last ten minutes of the half belonged to Bath, with Jarvis again left frustrated. This time it was a driving cross by Straker expertly met by the forward’s forehead, but Sam Beasant reacted superbly to tip the ball over. Rod Stringer’s men nearly snatched the lead on the cusp of half-time when Bagasan Graham’s weaving run and cross found Church, but his shot was charged down by the determined City backline.
Whatever Gill said at half-time had the desired effect, as the visitors took the lead on 47 minutes. Watkins benefitted from a slip from Haines, and saw his cross from the byline deflected in the air, landing perfectly for the onrushing Stearn, who bundled home from a yard out. It was the midfielder’s first Bath goal since March 21 2015, when he hit a brace in a 7-2 win against Farnborough, some 1,029 days previous. Half-time substitute Michael West curled an effort wide after Davies’ volley had been charged down as the home side probed forward, with another attacker, Lee Barnard, entering the fray in place of Chris Dickson, who’d been well-marshaled by former Sutton team-mate Kevin Amankwaah throughout. Oyenuga, who netted the winner at Twerton in August, slipped Graham through, but Southwood was alert to palm away his stinging drive, his first serious save of the afternoon. The home fans grew frustrated at their team’s inability to find a breakthrough against their well-organised opponents, as City brought on Matt Richards for Watkins in an unorthodox advanced midfield role. Hitchcock was also introduced for Oyenuga, and nearly made an instant impact. West’s cross following a short corner was headed goalwards from his fellow substitute, only to see Straker remarkably clear it off the line. The resulting clearance saw Craig Braham-Barrett inadvertently head the ball over his own goalkeeper, seemingly leaving Richards with a tap-in, but the full-back produced a stunning recovery challenge and deny the former Cheltenham man. It proved even more crucial as with two minutes remaining, Chelmsford equalised. In a rare lapse at the back, Church was afforded time to cross from the right, straight onto the head of Hitchcock, who guided the ball past Southwood from eight yards. Neither side could find a winner and, although a point against a side in the play-off positions is commendable, in the circumstances, and following a resolute performance, it would have felt more like two lost rather than one gained at full-time.
City’s Line Up: Southwood, Welch-Hayes, Straker (c), Artus, Amankwaah, Batten, Stern, Morton, Jarvis, Watkins (Richards 67), Compton. Subs not used: Rigg, Case, Kelly, Hodges.
Scorers: City – Stearn (47); Chelmsford – Hitchcock (88)
City Bookings: Artus (71), Welch-Hayes (74), Compton (84)
Officials: D Spain, O Butcher, M Robertson-Tant